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Thelma Boltin

1985 Florida Folk Heritage Award


Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, Thelma Boltin moved with her family to Gainesville in 1907. She received a B.A. from Emerson College in Boston, where she studied English, drama and speech, with a particular interest in folklore. Boltin returned to teach drama at Gainesville High School, and also became active as an actress and storyteller in theater and recreation programs for Alachua County. Her background won her the position of Program Director for the Stephen Foster Center in White Springs, for which she directed the Florida Folk Festival from 1954 to 1965. At the festival, she was a fixture in her sun bonnet and pioneer dress, often telling stories of early Florida life. 

Boltin traveled throughout the state searching for talent and presenting folk traditions through her program called “Florida Lore in Song and Story” to hundreds of school children and civic organizations. She also helped found the Heart of Florida Folk Festival in Dade City. Over the years she became affectionately known as Cousin Thelma to the thousands of people who attended the Florida Folk Festival from 1955 to 1986.